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Serve up versatile mussels on grill, steamed with curry, in salad or in shooter

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Many people dine on mussels in restaurants but don't realize how easy they are to prepare at home, says Alain Bosse, co-author of "Mussels: Preparing and Enjoying a Sensational Seafood."

"Once the mussel is open, it's cooked. Don't overcook them because they'll shrink and become too small," he says.

"The key is keep your cover on and steam starts to roll in the pot, a good roar, that means your mussels are ready. And don't shake 'em like ... popcorn because it takes them longer to cook. Leave them alone. Just put a little bit of liquid, put your cover on, let it steam. As soon as it roars take it off the burner."

Here are some recipes from the cookbook to try.

Cottage-Style Grilled Mussels

This is a recipe that gets everyone involved. It can be done on a barbecue or over a campfire or fire pit. Multiply the ingredients for this recipe by the number of people you have in your party.

500 g (1 lb) fresh mussels

1 garlic clove, chopped and crushed

2 ml (1/2 tsp) fresh ginger, peeled and minced

Half a lime

60 ml (2 oz) of your favourite beverage (wine, beer, apple juice or root beer)

Rinse mussels under running fresh water. Discard any that do not close.

Provide each guest with a 30-by-30-cm (12-by-12-inch) piece of thick foil. Place mussels in centre, add crushed garlic, minced ginger and a squeeze of lime.

Shape foil around mussels to make a bowl and add beverage. Close top to form a "purse," leaving a small opening for the steam to vent.

Place packets on barbecue or coals and let them steam. After 5 to 6 minutes, carefully remove foil packet from fire and let cool. Open carefully, averting face, as steam will escape.

Makes 1 serving.

———

Greek-Style Mussel and Watermelon Salad

Bosse thinks this mussel and watermelon salad makes a refreshing change from a traditional garden salad. The sweetness of the watermelon balances the saltiness of the mussels and feta, creating a perfect balance on the palate.

Mussels

1 kg (2 lb) mussels

50 ml (1/4 cup) white wine

Salad

1 l (4 cups) watermelon cubes (cut in 4 cm/1 1/2-inch pieces)

1/2 red onion, julienne

1 English cucumber, diced

24 oregano leaves

24 basil leaves, chopped

24 pitted kalamata olives

125 ml (1/2 cup) olive oil

50 ml (1/4 cup) white balsamic vinegar

22 ml (1 1/2 tbsp) coarse salt

15 ml (1 tbsp) black pepper

125 ml (1/2 cup) crumbled feta cheese

Mussels: Rinse mussels under running fresh water. Discard any that do not close.

In a large pot, add mussels and wine. Cover and cook on high for 5 to 6 minutes or until steam is pouring out from under lid.

Let mussels cool. Remove mussel meat from shells and place in a covered bowl or dish. Refrigerate until ready to assemble.

Salad: In a large bowl, toss watermelon, red onion, cucumber, oregano, basil and olives. Pour in olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and mix until incorporated. Carefully fold in mussels and top with feta cheese.

Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Gently toss again just before serving.

Makes 6 servings.

———

Canadian Curried Mussels

Curry is one of Bosse's favourite spices. It's just so warming and soothing that he feels it's the perfect accompaniment to mussels. The cream smoothes it out and gives it a velvety texture that is palate pleasing. Add lots of sauce to the bowl when serving, and serve crusty bread for dipping.

1 kg (2 lb) mussels

50 ml (1/4 cup) white wine

10 ml (2 tsp) garlic, finely chopped

2 green onions, diced

1 rib celery, finely diced

1 peeled carrot, finely diced

10 ml (2 tsp) curry paste or 5 ml (1 tsp) yellow curry powder

175 ml (3/4 cup) 35 per cent cream

Rinse mussels under running fresh water. Discard any that do not close.

In a large pot, add mussels, wine, garlic, green onions, celery and carrot. Cover and cook on high for 5 to 6 minutes or until steam is pouring out from under lid.

Remove from heat and drain half the broth. Add curry and cream and stir well. Cover and return to heat and steam for another 3 to 4 minutes or until mussels have opened.

Transfer mussels into 2 large bowls and reduce sauce, allowing it to thicken slightly. Pour sauce over mussels.

Makes 2 servings.

———

Gazpacho Mussel Shooters

Bosse developed this recipes for Saltscapes, a lifestyle magazine in Atlantic Canada. Gazpacho is a fresh vegetable soup that is usually served cold and is especially refreshing during the hot summer months. Mussels were the perfect marriage. He invented this shooter style to pass as an hors d'oeuvre, but it can also be served as a soup at a sit-down affair.

1 kg (2 lb) mussels

50 ml (1/4 cup) white wine

2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and finely diced

1/2 medium yellow pepper, finely diced

1/2 English cucumber, finely diced

2 shallots, finely diced

2 ribs celery, finely diced

50 ml (1/4 cup) olive oil

250 ml (1 cup) tomato juice

30 ml (2 tbsp) chipotle

Tabasco sauce, to taste

Salt and pepper, to taste

Rinse mussels under running fresh water. Discard any that do not close.

In a large pot, add mussels and wine. Cover and cook on high for 5 to 6 minutes or until steam is pouring out from under lid.

Let mussels cool. Remove mussel meat from shells and place in a covered bowl or dish. Reserve 250 ml (1 cup) of the broth. Refrigerate until ready to assemble.

In a large bowl, place tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, shallots and celery. Add olive oil, mussel broth, tomato juice and Tabasco. Stir well and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate gazpacho for at least 2 hours before serving.

To serve, place 2 mussels in the bottom of each 60 ml (2 oz) shot glass, fill with gazpacho, garnish with an additional mussel and a sprinkle of salt.

If serving in bowls, simply add mussel meat to soup before serving.

Makes 24 hors d'oeuvres or serves 4 as a soup.

Source: "Mussels: Preparing and Enjoying a Sensational Seafood" by Alain Bosse and Linda Duncan (Whitecap Books).

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